The post-award hangover for most star athletes amounts to little more than added pounds from banquet circuit buffets. But for Pitt WR Antonio Bryant, the Biletnikoff Award winner, new-found stardom weighs heavier than an extra helping of surf 'n turf.
The Pittsburgh junior has followed his breakout year with a tumultuous off-season. Last winter, just as Pitt was positioning the brash 6'2" 195-pounder as the new face of Panther football and a Heisman hopeful, Bryant was arrested on campus after a parking ticket dispute. In March, he was suspended for two practices for skipping conditioning drills. Then came April, when he was kicked off the team for exchanging heated words with LB coach David Blackwell following a fight with a teammate. Bryant's suspension was lifted two weeks later, but coach Walt Harris says his star won't officially be back on the team until he meets criteria that will not be made public.
Nearly every Division I player was a high school star. But the spotlight has never shone on Bryant before. At Miami's Northwestern High, a perennial powerhouse, Bryant was just a role player. Now, as he tries to come to terms with higher expectations, the fire that fueled him to become the nation's top receiver may be his greatest weakness. "Antonio's such a passionate player," says Harris. "But he has to realize this is serious."
He's trying. Bryant talks regularly with his godfather, Carl Johnson, and his pastor about how to balance his burgeoning fame with his in-your-face persona. "He just wants to be regular Antonio," says Johnson. "He's found out that he can't be that anymore."
Bryant admits he's struggling -- "I've learned there is more responsibility with every action I take" -- especially with what it means to be a team leader. But Harris just wants Bryant to lead by example: "He's not a coach. They don't listen to me, so they certainly aren't going to listen to a 20-year-old.
"Antonio knows he needs to gear it down," says Harris. "But I'd much rather have to tone a player down than jump-start him."
This article appears in the May 14 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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